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The Treasure of the San José: Death at Sea in the War of the…

de Carla Rahn Phillips

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Sunk in a British ambush in 1708, the Spanish galleon San Jose was rumored to have one of the richest cargos ever lost at sea. Though treasure hunters have searched for the wreck's legendary bounty, no one knows exactly how much went down with the ship or exactly where it sank. Here, Carla Rahn Phillips confronts the legend of lost treasure with documentary records of the San Jose's final voyage and suggests that the loss of silver and gold en route to Spain paled in comparison to the loss of the six hundred men who went down with the ship. Drawing from rich archival records, Phillips presents a biography of the ship and its crew. With vivid detail and meticulous scholarship, the author tells the stories of the officers, sailors, apprentices, and pages who manned the ship and explains the historical context in which the San Jose became prey to the British squadron. But the story does not end with the sinking of the San Jose. While Phillips addresses the persistent question of how much treasure was on board when the ship went down, she focuses on the human dimensions of the tragedy as well. and examines the impact of the ship's loss on the Spanish government, the survivors, and the families of the men who perished. Original, comprehensive, and compelling, The Treasure of the San Jose separates popular myth from history and sheds light on the human lives associated with a treasure ship.… (més)
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I always try to take at least one maritime-related book with me to the coast for vacation, so I was intentionally in the middle of Carla Rahn Phillips' The Treasure of the San José: Death at Sea in the War of the Spanish Succession (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) when I headed up to Maine this year.

Phillips' subject is the much-fabled San José, a Spanish galleon sunk in a battle with English warships in 1708 off the coast of the Spanish Main. Using careful research of archival data, she provides the first in-depth historiographical analysis of the ship, its voyage, its crew, and its destruction - and as she does so, attempts to illustrate how historical memory can differ so wildly from actual events.

Some of the noteworthy elements of Phillips' treatment are her greatly detailed expositions on Spanish shipbuilding practices and measurement nomenclature, excellent biographical reconstructions of the ship's officers (very detailed) and crew (much less so), and a useful discussion of the Spanish imperial bureaucracy during the early eighteenth century. She dissects the available evidence regarding the still-missing and much-sought cargo that went down with the ship (and most of its crew), but certainly the most fascinating portion of the book to me was Phillips' minute description of the battle that resulted in the loss of the San José, drawing on the accounts of both the Spanish and English participants.

A good, narrowly-drawn, archives-based study of an important incident, Phillips' book does much to dispel longstanding myths and provides a close look at maritime practices as well as the difficulties posed by allowing memory to stand in for fact. While I thought the archival citations could in some places have been more extensive, the endnotes and bibliography were quite useful and welcome. I should add as well that the overall design is quite nice, and certainly added to my positive impression of the book.

http://philobiblos.blogspot.com/2007/07/book-review-treasure-of-san-jos.html ( )
1 vota JBD1 | Jul 25, 2007 |
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Sunk in a British ambush in 1708, the Spanish galleon San Jose was rumored to have one of the richest cargos ever lost at sea. Though treasure hunters have searched for the wreck's legendary bounty, no one knows exactly how much went down with the ship or exactly where it sank. Here, Carla Rahn Phillips confronts the legend of lost treasure with documentary records of the San Jose's final voyage and suggests that the loss of silver and gold en route to Spain paled in comparison to the loss of the six hundred men who went down with the ship. Drawing from rich archival records, Phillips presents a biography of the ship and its crew. With vivid detail and meticulous scholarship, the author tells the stories of the officers, sailors, apprentices, and pages who manned the ship and explains the historical context in which the San Jose became prey to the British squadron. But the story does not end with the sinking of the San Jose. While Phillips addresses the persistent question of how much treasure was on board when the ship went down, she focuses on the human dimensions of the tragedy as well. and examines the impact of the ship's loss on the Spanish government, the survivors, and the families of the men who perished. Original, comprehensive, and compelling, The Treasure of the San Jose separates popular myth from history and sheds light on the human lives associated with a treasure ship.

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